At this point, I’m willing to say the final season of Game of Thrones is a bust. Not because what I wanted to happen didn’t happen. Not because fan theories didn’t play straight, or any of that nonsense. No, because this is an ending that was decided by two very different storytellers than George R.R. Martin. And extra no to declare that this isn’t a “The books are better!” situation either. I’m saying the series shifted gears and never accounted for the change in its approach.
I think the overall story of these final two seasons could have worked. If they were given time to breathe for maybe another season, if the stories were more organically intertwined with the White Walkers stuff. I don’t know. Maybe two seasons? There’s just so much happening in such a short amount of time.
Look back at this season for a moment. They just defeated death incarnate two episodes ago. How do we even process that? What does that mean for society? Are they hailed as heroes? Does anyone else even believe them south of Winterfell? Doesn’t matter, we have to expedite Dany’s anti-white savior arc and force her to further lose more people close to her. Then we head straight onto the final arc of Danny’s self-destructive journey, losing Missandei and another dragon before eventually burning down King’s Landing, ending the Lannister threat once and for all with Cersei’s death. The final episode can now focus on Jon v. Dany: Dawn of Winter. That’s insane. It’s just too much, man. We even lost Varys at the start of this episode! VARYS! Master of lies and little birds (remember those? We saw one again for the first time in four seasons!) but it doesn’t play a pivotal role in the actions that follow.
But the good of this episode? My man, Miguel Sapochnik, truly remains innocent. I don’t think it’s quite as visually accomplished as his prior outing this season, but there are still countless powerful images that stay with you. Drogon peering out of the shadows, over Dany as she prepares to execute Varys, was astounding. The horrors of war as Dany and her troops triumph over her enemies, and the innocents that were caught in the crossfire. Make no mistake, this was not a battle. This was a massacre. An act of ruthless devastation that will strike fear into the hearts of every civilian in Westeros. And so Dany reigns supreme, fulfilling her vision at the end of Season 2. King’s Landing was not covered in snow, but in ashes. Whether it was purposeful misdirection back then is irrelevant, Dany’s fulfilled the Targaryen legacy. “Burn them all.” The residual caches of Wildfire bursting under the tunnels of King’s Landing. Stunning. Your swan song was a graceful one, Mr. Sapochnik. Somebody hire him for everything ever.
Along with the impeccable direction, capturing chaos and terror on a scale unprecedented, even for this series, this episode also gave us truly outstanding performances. Even performers I’m not too hot on in this series absolutely *killed* it tonight. Euron Greyjoy, essentially a really obnoxious alcoholic, gets a moment to really camp it up in a final confrontation with Jaime. I’m not sure why this confrontation happened the way it did, or what it means for the characters, but it was choreographed nicely. The fights have never been less romanticized and the down and dirty fighting was visceral in its execution.
Jaime and Cersei’s ends were photographed and performed beautifully. It’s also kind of nonsense. It’s not that it implicitly undoes Jaime’s arc, it’s that his arc simply wasn’t coming close to undoing itself. They tried this before back in Season 4 too, when Jaime raped Cersei. He was growing out of his darker ways, but they have him revert to being evil Prince Charming. It’s not built into the character beyond “I’m a bad guy,” when it’s actively. Mistakes are human. But they aren’t being made by the in-universe human beings. That being said, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and the great Lena Headey absolutely nail their final scenes together. Until recently, they were even written beautifully as tragic and human as anyone else on the series. Jaime became a favorite of mine, and I’m honestly even fine with his end having been this finite point down the line. But come on, this is insulting without laying the groundwork. And Cersei deserved more to do this final season. All she did was scowl over King’s Landing. What kind of ruler was she? What did people think of her mass murder of the Faith Militant? We’ll never know. But I’m glad I got to spend time with a character as complex and frustrating as her.
Tyrion has really soft-balled it these last few seasons. Sansa said she once believed he was the wisest man in all of Westeros. And he was. So what happened? But at least his motivation tracks for this episode. But it’s how Tyrion got here that makes these moments fall flat. A sad sentiment for basically every other character so maybe I should stop mentioning them.
Okay, last one. I get why these writers wanted to push Dany into her Targaryen footsteps. I even get why they wanted to show Grey Worm and the Unsullied be once again turned into mindless soldiers only capable of being killers, having no other place in the world. Game of Thrones, A Song of Ice and Fire, whatever you want to call it, is a series about cycles of violence and how they dehumanize the people trapped within them. There’s a logical way to explore these ideas without having to sacrifice authentic storytelling and character choices. Credit where it’s due: Clarke nails this episode and her wardrobe/makeup emphasizing her state of mind is *chef finger kiss thing*
So here’s where I get optimistic for a moment. I think the finale could actually work. Somehow, some way, through some great power found in the old gods and the new, I truly believe there is a possibility the finale could not be a complete disaster. This is the ending the Dan’s were told about by George R.R. Martin. This is where they wanted to end up, by forsaking character and theme in order to achieve whatever comes next week. I’d be more interested if they got Sapochnik to do the swan song, but giving him the two biggest episodes of the final season? Not a bad call at all. Let’s hope they make some good ones next week too.
A lot of farewells tonight for characters I loved to hate, hated to love, and others I’ll miss just as dearly. Here are some bullet points of other nonsense in this ridiculously heavy episode:
- Please do not hold this final season against the actors. They’re all quite good, even in these dark days.
- CLEGANE BOWL, MOTHERFUCKERS. I’m just in it for the art direction and fan service. This delivered in spades. Flames engulfing their surroundings, smoky skies behind them as Dany lights up the city. Glorious trash. Still, the Hound deserved better anyways. What does this arc even mean for the Cleganes by this point? Their journey’s led them so far apart before being snapped back to square one. They’ve either evolved or devolved too far to actually gain anything from this fight.
- I actually LOL’d when Pycelle ate shit on the stairs. A relatively fun minor antagonist gets a fitting, pitiful death.
- Jon being completely useless in this final season is hilarious and kind of great? Like, he’s so tired of everyone telling him how important he is when he’s barely surviving any of this bullshit and just trying to nap. Love it. Don’t know how intentional it is though.
- So, Cersei and Sansa never have a conversation again? Really? Jesus.
- Varys and Littlefinger just got fucked on this show, huh? Their secret game of international chess was fascinating. This final season severely missed that.
- Arya’s survival run through King’s Landing was outstanding. Tense as hell, horrifying, soul-crushing. I’m guessing she kills Dany in the finale. Emilia Clarke has green eyes.
- Really good twitter thread HERE about some of the broad issues in adapting the series and how/why the ending isn’t working.